© Randy Glasbergen
The benefits of taking statins have been exaggerated, two leading experts claim.

They say the cholesterol-lowering medicines - hailed as miracle drugs when they hit the market 20 years ago - are not as safe or effective at preventing heart attacks as patients have been led to believe.

Although they can dramatically cut cholesterol levels, they have 'failed to substantially improve cardiovascular outcomes', says an analysis of data in clinical trials.

It was carried out by Dr David Diamond, a professor of molecular pharmacology at the University of South Florida, and expert in cardiovascular disease Dr Uffe Ravnskov.

They say many studies touting statins' efficacy have failed to note serious side effects. They also claim 'statistical deception' has been used to make inflated claims about their effectiveness, which has misled the public.

The two authors say in the analysis, published in the Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology: 'The adverse effects suffered by people taking statins are more common than reported in the media and at medical conferences.

'Increased rates of cancer, cataracts, diabetes, cognitive impairments and musculoskeletal disorders more than offset the modest cardiovascular benefits of statin treatment.'

They conclude: 'There is a great appeal to the public to take a pill that offers the promise of a longer life and to live heart attack free.

'The reality, however, is that statins actually produce only small beneficial effects on cardiovascular outcomes, and their adverse effects are far more substantial than is generally known.'

In July, NHS rationing body Nice said statins should be given to 17million patients, almost 40 per cent of the adult population.

The US experts say those who champion the medication have often presented data in a way that exaggerates the benefits.

Comment: The pharmaceutical industry has made a fortune championing these drugs through their media shills and by 'encouraging' doctors to prescribe them - financial gain drives the industry, not the safety and well-being of patients.

'Statin advocates have used statistical deception to create the illusion that statins are "wonder drugs," when the reality is that their modest benefits are more than offset by their adverse effects', they claim.

The analysis takes a critical look at the Jupiter Trial and the Anglo-Scandinavian Cardiac Outcomes Trial Lipid Lowering Arm (ASCOT-LLA).

It claims that in the Jupiter trial, the public and doctors were told of a 54 per cent reduction in heart attacks, when the actual reduction was less than 1 percentage point.

In the ASCOT-LLA study, the improvement in patient outcomes with Lipitor treatment was 1.1 percentage points, said the analysis.

But when this study was presented to the public, US advertisements transformed this into a 36 per cent cut in the risk of having a heart attack.

The inflated claims and playing down of the adverse effects have helped to boost enthusiasm for the cholesterol-lowering drugs among health care providers and the public, say the authors.